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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Wolfley: Broadcasters sound off on sabermetrics

Didn’t Bob Gamere mention WHIP one time and get into all sorts of trouble?

Orel Hershiser, an analyst on “Sunday Night Baseball,” contended that “it’s easier to bring the stat to the broadcast if it’s a formula that everybody understands.”

“All of us on this call listening to my voice right now, nobody can tell me the formula for WAR,” Hershiser said. “We know what it stands for, wins above replacement, but how do you come up with a number? I think people know what an RBI is, know what a home run is, know what a walk is. Those are easy to explain. People have a huge reference point.”

By that standard, no one in a National Football League telecast should bring up quarterback rating, because no one can give you the formula for it, either. Yet NFL broadcasts routinely reference quarterback rating.

“It’s baseball and it’s an eyes test,” Hershiser said. “(Giants manager) Bruce Bochy and (Giants general manager) Brian Sabean won two out of the last three World Series. I don’t know if you can name me the WAR of any guy on their whole club. Buster Posey probably has the best one, Matt Cain, maybe Pablo Sandoval. I know those three guys are probably the core of their team.”

...Shulman said in a conference call with reporters earlier this week that he sees the value of “the new-age analytics,” as he called them, but he’s not going to hand over his call to them in part because he does not think many viewers are into those numbers.

“I think the vast majority of our audience, I bet for everybody on a Monday morning who said, ‘Do you know what Mike Trout’s WAR (wins above replacement) is?’ I bet there are 10 people who say, ‘Did you see he hit his 30th home run?’ or stole his 49th base or whatever.

“If you go back 15 years nobody was even talking about on-base percentage, that came in and then, of course, OPS came in. OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) I think is fairly common now. So things are moving. They’re just not maybe moving that the sabermetricians would like.”

Repoz Posted: March 28, 2013 at 09:41 PM | 25 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: media, sabermetrics

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. LooseCannon Posted: March 28, 2013 at 10:07 PM (#4398872)
That's why it would be stupid for a sports and its website to tout new-fangled stats such as Total Quarterback Rating and PER which the average person has no idea how to compute.

ESPN should hire someone to come up with a completely new one-size-fits-all statistic which looks different from some of the other metrics. I'm not up on the latest ideas, so don't lambast me if I miss one, but perhaps a metric like Total Quarterback Rating, manipulated so that the average player is supposed to be 50 and the range is from 0 to 100. Being able to attach a face to a stat would help to sell it within the ESPN style of doing things.

I am sympathetic to the idea that viewers don't want to be deluged with stats. Perhaps they can cherry-pick and only cite things like WAR if it suggests a player is under-rated by conventional stats but not when the player is over-rated.
   2. Dr. Chaleeko Posted: March 28, 2013 at 10:39 PM (#4398893)
It just feels a little weird that an announcer would talk about WAR during a game. It's more a retrospective stat than a descriptive stat.

If a guy is leading off, OBP. If a reliever is coming in, K/9 or K%. I'm not sure that there's a particularly good situation to use WAR during a telecast because its not situationally applicable and doesn't describe a player's attributes.
   3. Ray (RDP) Posted: March 28, 2013 at 10:44 PM (#4398900)
It just feels a little weird that an announcer would talk about WAR during a game. It's more a retrospective stat than a descriptive stat.

If a guy is leading off, OBP. If a reliever is coming in, K/9 or K%. I'm not sure that there's a particularly good situation to use WAR during a telecast because its not situationally applicable and doesn't describe a player's attributes.


Huh? "He's arguably the most valuable player in the league right now. He leads the league with a 4.5 WAR."
   4. The District Attorney Posted: March 28, 2013 at 10:47 PM (#4398902)
The important thing is that the announcer understands that Trout's hitting plus baserunning plus defense added up to a historic season. If they understand that, they can explain it any number of ways, which may or may not involve mentioning the exact WAR number. If they cite WAR without understanding that, then they don't actually know what they're talking about.
   5. jdennis Posted: March 28, 2013 at 11:19 PM (#4398912)
i think regular folks can get the basic point of WAR and accept it, that it's a way to try to measure how much a player helps his team win. if you go into more detail they will react against it, but i think they can accept the general concept.
   6. Walt Davis Posted: March 29, 2013 at 12:18 AM (#4398927)
I'm not sure that there's a particularly good situation to use WAR during a telecast because its not situationally applicable and doesn't describe a player's attributes

As Ray sorta notes, they're gonna talk about all sorts of things during the broadcast. "Y'know Bob, while he doesn't have eye-popping batting numbers, that little Jose Altuve is a really nice player. He does a lot of little things right like baserunning. Says here he's added half a win already just with his baserunning." "And defense Joe! OK, he's no Darwin Barney but who is. Still, he ranks third among AL 2B in runs saved on defense."

One thing I found interesting was how quickly writers (not so much broadcasters to my knowledge) adopted Dewan's "Fielding Bible" when it came out. They didn't seem to get particularly worked up about the crazy numbers. Some of that was just the clever title of his book I think. So I propose the "little things index" -- Rbase + Rdp + Rfield. When you publish, don't mention the formula. Don't tout it as the next great saber super-numbers. In fact, tout it as "finally a stat that measures all the smallball stuff those stupid statnerds ignore."
   7. pthomas Posted: March 29, 2013 at 12:48 AM (#4398932)
I mute them all anyway, who cares?
   8. Bhaakon Posted: March 29, 2013 at 05:36 AM (#4398952)
Says here he's added half a win already just with his baserunning.


I'd probably go with the run equivalent, in that instance. I think part of the factors conspiring against WAR gaining common currency is that its use of the word "win" is rather abstract. What is half a win, after all? This isn't hockey. You can't tie.

Also, replacement level. The entire concept seems to make some people see red, and requires a long and boring explanation/justification even for those who don't dismiss newfangled statistics out of hand.

"Above" is good, though. I think America is ready for "Above."
   9. Edmundo got dem ol' Kozma blues again mama Posted: March 29, 2013 at 06:00 AM (#4398953)
"Above" is good, though. I think America is ready for "Above."

We can thank Garrison Keillor (wow, I spelled Keillor right) for that.
   10. Howie Menckel Posted: March 29, 2013 at 07:31 AM (#4398958)
I agree that announcers citing WAR numbers only adds to the boredom they already produce. And why alienate some fans with it?

As noted, talk about how a player is considered a whiz defensively, and how he rarely gets caught stealing, and how he's one of the best in the league at going from first to third on a single.

Geesh, it's a GAME.

If WAR ever gains the traction that OPS did, fine. But why do we have to forcefeed fans?
   11. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: March 29, 2013 at 08:56 AM (#4398981)
I don't need my broadcasters to talk about the numbers (traditional or advanced) during a broadcast, I just need them not to dismiss them. To use Ray's example above "he's arguably the most valuable player in the league" is sufficient. I think graphics can be used to provide the numerical context, let the announcer weave a good tale. I think sharing numbers over and over again would be pretty dull and I say that as an accountant who spends his days sharing numbers.

What I don't want is the announcer to say things like "Jeff Francoeur is a star, I don't care what the numbers say." The reflexive stat bashing that these guys do is as boring as a recitation of WAR, UZR and OPS+ would be.
   12. DA Baracus Posted: March 29, 2013 at 09:02 AM (#4398982)
By that standard, no one in a National Football League telecast should bring up quarterback rating, because no one can give you the formula for it, either. Yet NFL broadcasts routinely reference quarterback rating.


They shouldn't bring it up because it's a bad stat.

ESPN should hire someone to come up with a completely new one-size-fits-all statistic which looks different from some of the other metrics. I'm not up on the latest ideas, so don't lambast me if I miss one, but perhaps a metric like Total Quarterback Rating, manipulated so that the average player is supposed to be 50 and the range is from 0 to 100. Being able to attach a face to a stat would help to sell it within the ESPN style of doing things.


They tried to do that with QBR and it was, rightfully, a dud.
   13. AROM Posted: March 29, 2013 at 09:04 AM (#4398983)
I would suggest breaking down WAR into components, and then micro components. Announcers don't have to do the work, that's what interns are for. Ask them to come up with bullet points showing the most impressive facts. Instead of telling the audience that Trout was worth an extra win, or 10 runs on the bases, find some examples that go into this figure. For example, tell the audience that when he's on second and a single is hit, he's scored 27 out of 33 times, (or whatever the number is, I'm not looking it up) and compare it to the 45% league average to give a frame of reference.
   14. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: March 29, 2013 at 09:23 AM (#4398994)
One thing missing from broadcasts that use stats is context. I notice this more when I watch other sports that I'm not knowledgable about. If I'm watching the NCAA tourney and they tell me that such and such is shooting 30% from three point land I don't have any clue if that's good or not.

To use AROM's example I'd want to hear "Trout has scored from second on a hit 27 out of 33 times, that's 3rd best in all of baseball." It's not much wordier but it's considerably more descriptive.
   15. Shibal Posted: March 29, 2013 at 11:02 AM (#4399091)
Advanced stats are for reading and looking at in private, like porn.

No one wants to hear announcers spew out WAR or Isolated Power numbers; those are incomprehensible to 99.5% of the listening audience and would demand explanations that take away from the immediate game description.
   16. AROM Posted: March 29, 2013 at 11:18 AM (#4399111)
To use AROM's example I'd want to hear "Trout has scored from second on a hit 27 out of 33 times, that's 3rd best in all of baseball." It's not much wordier but it's considerably more descriptive.


I agree you need to provide context. I'd prefer that as a comparison to league average rate instead of a rank, so you don't have to deal with cutoffs - is Trout #3 behind a guy who is 5 for 5 or is that player not considered?
   17. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: March 29, 2013 at 11:29 AM (#4399122)
I'd prefer that as a comparison to league average rate instead of a rank, so you don't have to deal with cutoffs - is Trout #3 behind a guy who is 5 for 5 or is that player not considered?


Either option can work. That's basically an editorial decision. At some point "Mike Trout is way above average at scoring from second on a hit" is less contextual than "he's third in the league." In the 5 for 5 example including/not including that player doesn't change that Trout is one of the best in the league which is what you want to get across (and of course you could say it just that way).
   18. JJ1986 Posted: March 29, 2013 at 11:37 AM (#4399126)
I'd prefer that as a comparison to league average rate instead of a rank, so you don't have to deal with cutoffs - is Trout #3 behind a guy who is 5 for 5 or is that player not considered?


Like how everyone says Fernando Rodney last year had the best ERA for a reliever ever by making up an innings limit.
   19. Sean Forman Posted: March 29, 2013 at 11:47 AM (#4399135)
   20. DanG Posted: March 29, 2013 at 12:34 PM (#4399167)
everyone says Fernando Rodney last year had the best ERA for a reliever ever
Well, maybe say best ERA for a CLOSER ever:

Lowest ERA, 20+ Games Finished

Rk              Player  ERA ERAOPSSV GF   IP Year Age  Tm Lg
1      Fernando Rodney 0.60  634   19 48 65 74.2 2012  35 TBR AL
2     Dennis Eckersley 0.61  603   13 48 61 73.1 1990  35 OAK AL
3         Rich Gossage 0.77  465   21 20 30 46.2 1981  29 NYY AL
4           Bill Henry 0.87  420   35  6 20 52.0 1964  36 CIN NL
5    Jonathan Papelbon 0.92  517   18 35 49 68.1 2006  25 BOS AL
6           Doug Henry 1.00  406   20 15 25 36.0 1991  27 MIL AL
7        Craig Kimbrel 1.01  399    1 42 56 62.2 2012  24 ATL NL
8          Dale Murray 1.03  374   34 10 23 69.2 1974  24 MON NL
9       Rollie Fingers 1.04  333   50 28 41 78.0 1981  34 MIL AL
10        Brad Ziegler 1.06  390   73 11 21 59.2 2008  28 OAK AL
11         John Smoltz 1.12  385   36 45 55 64.1 2003  36 ATL NL
12           Jose Mesa 1.12  418   40 46 57 64.0 1995  29 CLE AL
13           Tim Burke 1.19  356   31 18 30 91.0 1987  28 MON NL
14          Eric Gagne 1.20  337    4 55 67 82.1 2003  27 LAD NL 
   21. valuearbitrageur Posted: March 29, 2013 at 01:59 PM (#4399204)
"And Trout takes second as the the outfielder missed the cutoff man!! Ed, how big was that!"

"Bob, that heady play adds nearly a half run to the Angels run expectation for this game, though obviously in the middle innings like now that only increases the Angels win expectation by 2%."

"And now Trout is taking a pretty big lead"

"Bob, that isn't advisable. Stealing third only adds marginally to run expectation for the inning, mainly in single run innings, while being caught off base is a hammer blow to multiple run expectations for the inning"

"Ed, shut up!"

"I can't shut up about this kid, from his on base percentage to his defensive zone rating to his base running efficiency, he's very, very, highly ranked! I've prepared a report on similar players by age and career length that I think our listeners will find fascinating. Starting from the end, player 100 most similar to Mike Trout is...."

Ed trails off as Mike Scoscia has entered the booth and begins choking him to death.
   22. bigglou115 Posted: March 29, 2013 at 03:16 PM (#4399269)
I really don't care what announcers say so long as their opinion is justified by some knowledge or research. My hate for Joe Morgan would have been appreciably lessened if he'd said, "I read that book Moneyball and I disagree with it," as opposed to "I won't read Mobeyball because I think it's stupid." I mean, at least he could have looked at the cover and said, I don't think an outsider like Michael Lewis can tell me anything about baseball. I think in his last interview on the subject he still held firm to the idea that Billy Beane wrote the book.
   23. Karl from NY Posted: March 29, 2013 at 03:25 PM (#4399273)
"Bob, that heady play adds nearly a half run to the Angels run expectation for this game, though obviously in the middle innings like now that only increases the Angels win expectation by 2%."

That's part of the problem. I don't think announcers understand how insignificant each individual play and player is, or if they did, wouldn't want to know or to remind their audience. Everybody "knows" the difference between a .300 and .250 hitter is "huge", the difference between a can't-miss Ichiro at-bat and a forgettable Mike Bordick or someone. Except that actually adds up to one hit per week, two runs per month, one win per year. We all know a single player can't take a baseball team to the playoffs as can Adrian Peterson or Tim Duncan, but it's always a bit shocking to realize how narrow the margins between baseball players really are.
   24. Jim (jimmuscomp) Posted: March 29, 2013 at 04:11 PM (#4399299)
21 is full of win!

Well above average and likely an early season league leader.
   25. Mayor Blomberg Posted: March 29, 2013 at 04:44 PM (#4399319)
I'd keep the sound on for some combination of 21+23 in the booth opposite the Hawk during a Chisox win.

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